Michael Stelzner is an experienced Internet marketer, but even he was surprised with the results from the marketing campaigns that he and his team implemented for their Social Media Success Summit.
In the excerpts below, Michael talks about the tools they leveraged to generate buzz and build momentum to put on a successful event…ideas you can replicate for your own marketing campaigns.
Rich: I want to thank Michael Stelzner for being here today.
For those of you who don’t know Michael, he is one of the leading authorities on the topic of writing and marketing white papers. He has written more than 130 white papers for a bunch of companies you’ve probably never heard of like Microsoft, Dow Jones, FedEx and Motorola.
So, Michael, you’re the brains behind the Social Media Success.You put together a crack team of experts. Who was part of the social media team?
Mike: We had Gary Vaynerchuk who was our keynote and we had Ann Handley from MarketingProfs who’s the chief content officer for MarketingProfs. We had Darren Rowse who wrote the book ProBlogger. We had Brian Clark from Copyblogger, Mari Smith who’s the ‘queen of Facebook’, Denise Wakeman, Chris Garrett, and Jason Alba who wrote the book on LinkedIn. So there were a lot of very big names in the world of social media.
Rich: I’ve listened to them all and I’ve listened to a few of them multiple times. It’s a really great resource from really every level.
Mike: By the way, Rich, I do want to say thank you to you for inviting me here to speak with you. I’m really looking forward to talking about some very exciting things related to social media.
Rich: Mike, your presentation was very meta: it was about how you got the buzz generated for #SMSS09, which works better as a hashtag than it is to say out loud…apparently.
I really enjoyed the summit, especially your sesion… it was really about how you built up the buzz for SMSS09. From your presentation—I’ve actually listened to it three times now—the core of this buzz generation or marketing campaign that you had was the Social Media Marketing Industry Report that you created.
Would you talk a little bit about it and why you chose to create this report and why you thought it was going to generate that buzz that you needed to be able to get people excited about this event and attending?
Mike: I was on a discussion with my executive team, which is Mari Smith, Denise Wakeman and Chris Garrett, and we were talking about what we could do to really amp up this event. One of the ideas that Chris Garrett threw out there was, “Let’s do a survey,” but it wasn’t as an idea to amp up the event. It was just to get some intelligence on what people would be interested in learning about so we could put a panel together of presenters.
That was a few days earlier, and then I was driving to work one day and I got this idea in my head as I often do, “Why don’t you do more than just a simple survey? Do a very comprehensive survey and create a really great report as a result of it.”
What I did is I contacted the executive team and in a matter of 24 hours, we had the survey written. We all jointly helped promote it and in about 10 days, we got about 800 to 900 people that filled out the survey, which was very content-rich, answering questions that frankly had never been answered in the social media world before. For example:
- How much time are you investing in social media?
- What’s your level of experience?
- What are the tools that you’re using now?
- What are the tools that you hope to use in the future?
- What’s the one single thing you want to learn about the Social Media Success Summit?
We hired someone to do a qualitative analysis on all 800 of those responses. Then we came up with the top 10 questions marketers most want answered based on actual study data and we put together this report which just frankly went bonkers.
Rich: Yes, and I know you talked about it a little bit in your presentation, but how did you get so many people in the industry to participate in really what was just them donating their time for this industry report?
Mike: There were two key things. First of all, the angle was contribute to the community and gain something back for free. So the idea was most marketers knew at the time—and this was February 2009—that there really wasn’t very much data out there on the actual use of social media and how people are using it. It was all just kind of anecdotal. So they all were interested in finding out what the results were and they were also very interested in helping to promote the thing.
So we did a couple of different things, Rich. First of all, we asked people to do it in order to get a free copy of the results. That was one of the motivators. The other one was we asked people to help us promote it. And when you ask the people that took the study to actually help you promote it, they quickly become an advocate for it, and that helped it go viral like crazy.
We made it very easy through a bunch of different tactics and techniques to make it very simple for someone who took this study to help spread the word on the study.
By leveraging the initial executive team, which was Chris, Denise, Mike and Mari, we started the fire, if you will. We got the word out there to our prospective audiences, which were mostly on Twitter and Facebook, which combined was maybe 60,000 to 80,000 people. Eventually, it just took off on its own, actually in a matter of minutes. Within the first hour, we had 30 people take the report and then by later in the day, we had a couple of hundred, and it had been retweeted like crazy.
Everybody just wanted their circle of friends to take this thing because they knew the questions were the kind of answers they wanted to find out themselves and it just kind of went nuts.
Rich: I guess there was really an intrinsic need for everybody to put this information out there because they also wanted to see if what they were doing was maybe what other people were doing as well. It was to find out what people were doing.
Mike: Absolutely. Frankly, I don’t think if someone was to replicate this, there needs to be that intrinsic need for this model to be successful. I think that anyone could do a survey and try to answer questions that have not been appropriately answered in an industry. I think other people that are just simply interested in finding out the answers will take the survey.
I’ve also found, having done this before in different venues, that some people are going to do a survey just because they like you. If you’ve got a following like some of the folks do on my team, they’ll just do it because they feel like they owe you something and they want to go ahead and give back a little bit. By taking the survey, they’re going to give you some knowledge that’s going to help you down the road when you do an actual report.
Rich: In part of the presentation, you talked about the benefits of creating great content. But in the area or the arena of social media, you say to concentrate on exposure, not collecting registrations. Now that flies in the face of what a lot of marketers believe. Do you care to defend that belief?
Mike: Well, it’s kind of funny coming from me because predominantly the people that I help with white papers are businesses that are seeking leads, and the only way to get a lead is to ask for a name and a phone number and an email address. So it’s a rather counterintuitive thing to hear from my lips that you should put out a white or report without a registration form on it.
I think what it really comes down to is what is your objective? You can use social media to collect leads. You can hide a valuable report behind a registration page and get great leads if that’s your objective.
In the case of Social Media Success Summit 2009, that was not our objective. Our objective was actually to try to generate as much exposure as we could for a number of different things. First of all, one of my primary objectives was to build a following of marketers on my Twitter ID. I only had a couple of hundred people following me when I started this whole thing, and now I’ve got 12,000. So that objective has been checked off. Ultimately what I’m going to do with those followers is a whole different discussion for another day.
If your goal is to try to get exposure for something like a report, for example, if you just want the most amount of people talking about it and you want it to be everywhere possible, then that’s really kind of a PR campaign, not a lead generation campaign.
Social media seems best for public relations, not necessarily for lead generation because people like, for example, to let their friends and fans know about free great content. It comes off as a value that they’re providing to their followers and everybody has followers on Twitter. And when they can provide something that they think is valuable to someone who follows them, then they’re essentially planting a little bit of equity into that group that’s following them because they’re providing great content and everybody wants to provide great content.
When there are no strings attached, when there’s no obvious, “I have to jump through a hoop and put in my name and email address in order to get it,” then everybody knows it’s a pure kind of a play.
In the world of social media, it seems that asking people to do something to get something is unusual because everything comes so fast in the social media frontier. Twitter is great for finding and discovering information immediately and for discovering trends that you could never get in any other way. Because of its inherent nature, it makes sense to kind of lift the gates and let great content do its magic.
You can’t just rely on great content, however. You could produce a great report or a great white paper and then it could go nuts on the social media frontier and you could not have one person ever contact you. That’s where a certain key strategy in marketing tactics comes into play to try to get someone from actually clicking on a link on Facebook or Twitter to reading the report and to doing other actions like leaving a comment or signing up for your newsletter or clicking on an ad to go through and actually buy a ticket, and that kind of stuff.
Those are the kind of things that are important tactical things that need to be combined with smart content in order to create a really powerful marketing campaign for a small business.
Rich: Of course, wasn’t it one of the landing pages, though, that you put out there that took them back to your Twitter page? Is that one of the things that happened?
Mike: After they completed the survey, I dumped them onto my Twitter page. I was very tactical about what they saw on my Twitter page. I made sure I didn’t have a lot of noise on there. I made sure there wasn’t a lot of “Hey, Jack, great to see you” kind of stuff.
Instead, I made sure that during those 10 days, they were all valuable links to social media articles and so on and so forth, so that when someone took the survey and they discovered the survey from someone other than me, when they finished the survey, they actually discovered me.
I found that a lot of them actually followed me. As a matter of fact, I think I gained about 500 followers in two days at the beginning of that survey process. The hope was that if they started following me, then later on I’d be able to talk to them about the Social Media Success Summit when that actually came around and when that promotional cycle began.
Rich: Exactly. So it’s all driven by what your end goals are. Your first goal was to first of all get the input from people and start to generate the publicity about this. But then, of course, when they’re all done and they’ve already given you whatever they had, they’re at your Twitter page, which, of course, in some ways is its own type of landing page. Then they say, “Why wouldn’t I follow this guy? He obviously is an industry leader if he’s putting this whole thing together and I want to be alerted when this publication goes live.”
Mike: There was one other reason why we also decided to do it this way. You could technically say the whole thing was an experiment. I actually wanted to see whether or not doing a survey and generating a really high quality report and giving it away for free would actually generate the kind of exposure that I thought it could.
I very carefully tracked everything that we did. The idea was that this was going to be my topic of presentation at the summit as a case study on how we did what we did. Frankly, it outperformed anybody’s wildest expectations.
Rich: That’s great.
You talked about press releases and that little bit of marketing that you did. I’ve read enough marketing 2.0 stuff and I’ve gone to enough events where I always hear that the press release is dead. But to you, you feel that the press release is still relevant and important. I forget her name, but you mentioned the person who writes your press releases for you. Who is that?
Mike: Yes, Tia Dobi. Here’s the deal. Press releases are not dead, but the traditional press is dying. I think that’s what people mean when they say that press releases are dead. If you’re trying to write to get something published in a newspaper, for example, then that’s probably a waste of energy because those presses are dying and they’re literally shrinking by mass quantities. Everybody is getting their information somewhere else.
But press releases are different today than they were five or 10 years ago. Most people think about a press release and they think that you’re releasing data for the press. But that’s not what they are anymore. Instead you have a new audience now and it’s really a social media audience that you’re releasing press to.
When you write a press release and you go to a website like PRWeb and you release it to them, what you’re doing is, first of all, getting your press release embedded with certain keywords-rich content that ultimately is being tracked by different bloggers across the web. There are literally millions of bloggers that are covering different industries out there. They get daily updates in their email inbox from Yahoo and from Google News tracked on certain keywords.
What ends up happening is when you put a press release out, those press releases show up right in those people’s inboxes and they’re actively seeking content. They’re kind of the modern day citizen journalist, if you will.
But the other side of the press release that you might not be thinking about is the fact that it’s also used to get directly to consumers. The reason it gets directly to consumers is because it’s indexed by the search engines and it’s indexed on the news sites and consumers also track things that they’re personally interested in.
So really the press release is a very powerful tool. It’s just one of many arrows in your quiver. It’s definitely by no means as powerful as social media as a whole, but it’s something I would definitely include as part of a strategic campaign as far as if you’re launching something. For sure you want to do a press release and for sure you want to release it on PRWeb using the social media version of their press release, which will allow it to get the key syndication stuff going on Technorati and Google and all the other kinds of stuff.
It’s definitely very, very valuable. As a matter of fact, a case in point, Rich, is when we released a press release on the report itself, it was picked up almost immediately by WebProNews. WebProNews is a huge website that has been around for a long time covering the business and marketing, and recently, the social media frontier.
Once it got picked up by WebProNews, the thing went nuts. There was a lot more to it than that, but we didn’t contact WebProNews directly. They had to have found us through the press release or through some other crazy organic method. But I’m pretty convinced it came through the press release.
Rich: It sounds like you were doing a lot of things and you were firing on all cylinders. One of your campaigns—I don’t know if that’s the right word for it—is using fire starters. Can you talk a little bit about what a fire starter is and how you leveraged the power of the fire starters you’re associated with?
Mike: If you think about certain people in your industry that have a following, those people are fire starters. They’re the kind of people that can drop a match into the fuel, which is their audience and their followers, and people will pick it up and they will carry it and the fire will burn.
The idea here is to have a strategic group of fire starters that are covering slightly different industries. The hope is that if they all start fires at the same time, eventually some of those fires are going to meet up and they’re going create super fires.
The idea with the fire starter is to leverage key people that are in a key prominent position. In my case, Mari Smith, Denise Wakeman and Chris Garrett were some of my key fire starters. In addition, David Meerman Scott, who wrote The New Rules of PR, was one of my fire starters. Some of these were actually people that were motivated because they were on the team for my event. Others were just people that I asked to do a favor.
But the trick was to get them to all do it at approximately the same time. By having all that happen almost in sequence, what ends up happening is that people start hearing about it everywhere. You know what happens when people start hearing about it everywhere. They pay attention and they look into it. They may ignore it the first time, but when they hear it a second time from someone else they respect and trust, all of a sudden you’ve got a little fire that’s started. The trick is to have many of these little fires going simultaneously. If you only have one, it could peter out and you really won’t have very much success.
So the trick is to have those people and to use those people. There’s a whole science behind finding those people and building relationships with those people so that someday when you need them to help you start a fire, they’ll be willing to help. Frankly, for what it’s worth, in my new book that I’m working on, it’s going to talk about that in a lot more detail.
Rich: I’m looking forward to it. I just want to say that I’ve been really impressed as I’ve gone through your website and I’ve looked at everything that you’ve been putting together. I only really found out about you through the Social Media Success Summit. But I’m just really impressed by everything you’re doing and definitely took a look at some of the stuff and said, “What can I be doing better?” So I just want to thank you for that.
This is definitely the part of the interview where you should kind of pitch yourself. I think you’ve given away enough free information. Where can we find you online if we want to learn some more, Mike?
Mike: On Twitter: www.Twitter.com/mike_stelzner. On Facebook, you can just go to www.Facebook.com/mike.stelzner. My main website is www.WritingWhitePapers.com/blog. But if you just go to Twitter.com, that’s kind of my hub to everything in the social media world. You can find out a lot more about what I’m doing.
On the social media frontier, every single day, I publish at least four to six articles about social media case studies, trends in the industry, and leading studies and reports. That’s really what I focus on in Twitter, which is just basically what is going on in the world of social media from a marketing perspective. So if you want to learn a lot more, check me out on Twitter.
Rich: Mike, I want to thank you very much for your time. You’ve been very gracious with it and I appreciate it. I wish you the best with everything.
Mike: Thank you, Rich.
Want to learn more? In the full interview, Mike talks about the lessons he learned from SMSS09, what he’d do different for SMSS10, the importance of hard work in social media, what changes social media has brought to his own business and more. Read the full interview with Michael Stelzner here.